Historical story

The Battle of Grunwald - are you sure you know everything about it?

Last updated:2022-07-25

The Battle of Grunwald awakens our imagination to this day. However, do we know everything about it? Certainly not! Was it a battle with the Germans, why did we win it and did ... Jagiello really cared? Here are some facts that may surprise you.

The troops brought by the order had a "hard core" - trained their own heavy cavalry. In addition, "guests" and mercenaries, not only numerous, but probably also skilled in battle, because the religious experts knew each other too well in wars for the captains of mercenary troops to deceive them easily. As we remember, there were rather less monastic troops than the Polish ones, and there was also a large Lithuanian army.

The outcome of the battle is determined by many factors, not only the quality and number of troops, but it does not follow from the available sources that at any point in the battle anything completely unexpected would happen, which would shake the Teutonic army or cause panic, for example. (Although ... Długosz described a strange cloud in which the patron of Poland, St. Stanisław, appeared, but he used safe constructions:"they saw some ...", "it was supposed that ..." So - an effective literary ornament. A bit of a pity).

Why did we win?

In psychological-tactical-historical considerations based on incomplete sources, it is easy to find wonderful hypotheses. They are difficult to confirm, but also difficult to refute! Without losing sight of this objection, let us combine two facts:the troops of the Teutonic coalition were less numerous than the Polish coalition, and yet they held the initiative for a long time.

The article is an excerpt from the book Grunwald 1410. The greatest triumph of the Polish army Jan Wróbel, which has just been released on the market by the Znak Horyzont publishing house

Attacked by enemy troops withdrew at the beginning of the battle to repel the attacker soon in order. For the Grand Master, the battle plan somewhat worked itself out - to push out from the battlefield numerous, but less heavily armed wing (the Teutonic Knights' left, "our" - right, with Lithuanians and Tatars). By other forces, bind the center, and then by the joint forces of the center and the knights of the left wing freed from the Lithuanians, gain an advantage in the central battlefield. And, as Henryk Sienkiewicz wrote, not in the Teutonic Knights, but in the Trilogy - to catch the packs.

The Grand Master seems to act in this battle as if he was in a hurry to gain an advantage in the center. It is possible to explain three attempts to "break through", about which the author of the Prussian Continuation informed ... - three strikes of converting banners into the center of the royal troops. Perhaps von Jungingen reasonedly calculated that with selected but less numerous forces he must settle the battle quickly to neutralize the Lithuanians , gain a tactical advantage in the center, smash it and - as if for dessert - defeat the other wing.

Such a plan would explain leaving a large number of knights in the reserve - the tired center would focus on the natural counterattack of the Polish left wing, and then the Teutonic reserve would sweep the Poles off the face of the earth. In the decision of the great master, you can see the overestimation of the positive effects of hitting the Lithuanian flags. In fact, as it turned out, a significant part of his troops fell out of the game as a result of the pursuit of Lithuania, and the Lithuanians returned to the fray fairly quickly. And at the same time, Jungingen simply underestimated the resistance of the Polish knighthood to attacks by the Teutonic Knights, which, by the way, was wonderful. The numerical superiority of Poles and Lithuanians (as well as Ruthenians and Tatars) was of considerable importance for the course of the battle. It would probably be useless if not for the demonstrated persistence and bravery.

Battle of Grunwald. Diebold Schilling, miniature (15th century)

The cause of the Teutonic defeat is therefore clear. Too many knights chased after the Lithuanians and too many waited at the Grand Master's side for their five minutes. As a result, the Polish main forces were attacked by too thin Teutonic forces. The turning point of the battle was the moment when the knighthood of Jagiełło dominated the center, and von Jungingen did not react to the change of situation at the right moment. His retaliation reached the battlefield too late, and as a result he clashed with the Poles already ruling on the battlefield. He did not outweigh the scales, because the scarf was already tilted to the Polish side.


Perhaps no one will be surprised by the idea that the greatest threat to the knight were poverty and the amygdala. Poverty made it impossible to buy equipment, a war horse, and pay for bollards (today the term "henchman" sounds like an insult, and in the Middle Ages it meant "assistant director" - an attractive job). On the other hand, the amygdala, a small tap in our brain, triggers an immediate reaction when a very strong impulse - such as fear - is triggered. For example:run away! Or:roll with your teeth!

When the brain registers sudden danger (or sudden anger), the amygdala is instantly activated and practically stops thinking, with all human activities focused on one thing:react! Evolution dealt ruthlessly with primal humans, for whom this brain center reacted too slowly. However, battle is about more than an individual flight or pursuit.

It requires at least minimal cooperation between warriors, and therefore the ability to master nervous reactions. Only at the right moment was the knight to lose his mind and swing a heavy hammer or heavy sword (and not blindly, because you have to distinguish the enemy from his friend). Also, a possible escape could take place only on command. The electrifying stimuli of the amygdala had to be controlled.

"Before the Battle of Grunwald", Feliks Sypniewski (1852).

Chivalry has been idealized more than once. We find in representatives of this group noble motives, romantic stimuli, thinking in accordance with a specific system of values. And righteousness. Since anything in the world can happen, we had the perfect Black Zawisza, we have (more!) Northern White Rhino.

- because it was valuable. Unfortunately, although we know a little about training young (albeit ancient) Greeks and a lot about training Roman legionnaires, nothing about training the winners from Grunwald. Where did the Polish knight learn his craft, how did he become an effective knight, and not a dead one?

More than one Polish scientist has tried to answer this question in order to quickly come to the sad conclusion that there are no sources to provide such an answer. No wonder - who would provide such information? Since there were no schools for warriors, we will not read the student records, a set of teaching aids and certificates (finishing with a dagger - perfect).

"Home training played the greatest role in the individual training of our soldiers" - wrote Nadolski, mentioned several times, one of the most important scientists in the field of Grunwald. Well, in the fourteenth or fifteenth century, there were no records of important family events, and no letters were written to each other in which parents brag about their sons' progress in such training. It remains to be soberly guessed that individual skills were honed during fights, minor military incursions in the area and neighborly conflicts, and in the border regions of the kingdom such an opportunity was provided by counteracting the danger from the outside.

So much for "home" and individual training. The training of the army as a whole is more interesting. Nothing can replace a solid war on this matter.

Zawisza Czarny from Garbów in the painting by Matejko

When Jagiełło (1386) ascended the Polish throne, political tension increased. Some, quite thin, knights were mobilized to action, especially in the face of Jagiełło's constantly bucking competitor, Władysław Opolczyk, with whom the Teutonic Knights made alliances. The latter also attacked and undertook expeditions, but their goal was primarily Lithuania. Polish knights engaged in fighting in Lithuania to a limited extent. For a long time the Polish state was not consumed by a real civil or external war - until 1409.

Most of those who looked at the army of the order in the fields of Grunwald were people participating in this type of event for the first time in their lives, mobilized as part of the "universal expedition" - expeditio generalis. All independent owners of landed property were subject to it. are knights - nobiles (noble), village leaders, townspeople with landed estates, village leaders (founded) on the so-called German law, which guaranteed the village's autonomy, and the village leader had numerous rights, but in return he was burdened with a painful military obligation.

And yet the army going for the glory of Grunwald at least several times showed considerable skills in collective and orderly action. Jagiełło conducted exercises on July 6, 1410 (test alarm) and everything went well. Immediately after that, the army was practiced in combat conditions, forced by the king to march vigorously (42 kilometers) towards the Teutonic Knights during which the direction was changed by one hundred and eighty degrees. We know from sources about two morning wake-ups, day after day, efficiently carried out, we also know - and when we do not know, we can guess - that the discipline of troops in the Grunwald fields and the night before the battle was at a good level, even in the crisis moments of the battle there was no panic.

German nature

War requires identity. Own, noble (and preferably disadvantaged) and vulnerable - mean and harmful. It must be remembered that today's "Pole" and "German" are far from the medieval ones (what to look for here, the King of Poland was a Lithuanian, and he got the throne thanks to his marriage with Jadwiga, a Hungarian woman). Therefore, it seems legitimate to suppose that "Germans" existed in Polish minds. Germanity in Poland was represented not by the Teutonic Knights, but by German burghers, numerous German peasants (it is worth adding that it was assimilated fairly quickly, but, of course, at the beginning of this process it did not appear to be an obvious development of events), German Franciscans in Silesia and German knights - and it's rather "second-class", having nothing to do with yourself at home. At the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, German colonization - supported by local rulers, because it was economically profitable - was probably the most important event in this part of Europe, dynamizing economic and cultural development. It also evoked negative emotions.

Artur Orlonow, The Lwów banner in the Battle of Grunwald

When, at the beginning of the fourteenth century, the German patriciate of Krakow resisted the return of the Piasts (or more precisely, Prince Łokietek) and a rebellion took place, the Polish (or rather) author of a medieval poem described the sad fate of the leader of the rebellion, Albert:

Woe to me, because I despised him, wishing to be a soldier of Swab and giving him the land. Then my misfortune began when Fortune deceived me in my intention; God avenged him on me because I was the culprit, and He did it rightly. This is what nature has brought me to do, that is, the Germans striving that wherever they come, they always want to be the first and do not want to be subject to anyone at all. (transl. Henryk Kowalewicz)

This literal translation (from Latin, of course) in 19th-century literary translation takes on a more obvious tone:
German nature led me to this. Wherever he steps his foot, the German always sticks to this emblem:humiliate everyone, obey no one. No one can change his nature.

When we remove the nineteenth-century eyeglasses, we see social conflicts lined with ethnic problems, not purely national conflicts. The first (as far as we know) Pole to fight Germanism was Archbishop Jakub Świnka. In his opinion, the influx of foreign colonists wanting their own priests could pose a cultural and material threat to the local Church. We have traces of the reluctance of the local knighthood towards the German knighthood. this is a very interesting clue - the German knights, still poorly assimilated, were based on local princes, so the princes used the "new" in disputes with the "old".

The outstanding medievalist Benedict Zientara devoted much attention to the far-reaching effects of those conflicts:

From instinctive aversion to a man who uses a foreign language and brings with him foreign habits, through hostility towards a foreign intruder, taking up places and taking profits [...], to realizing the community of people speaking the same language and defending themselves against the influx of strangers - this is how the consciousness of Poles and Czechs developed.

The concept of patriotism, meaning in the Middle Ages a superficial relationship with the rulers of the state, was expanded to include the awareness of a common culture expressed in a common language threatened by German.

However, hostility towards strangers does not have to grow forever. Linguistic assimilation of newcomers and finding their place in the society of the "new country" by those faithful to their own language made the feeling of danger lose its strength. Linguistic patriotism, strengthened by common hostility to the incoming strangers:"[...] slowly began to give way to state patriotism." It is hard to suppose, however, that the negative stereotype, much less viable at the beginning of the 15th century than at the beginning of the 14th century, would not regain vigor in the face of war. If the king started a war with bishops, anti-church stereotypes would probably revive, and in the case of a peasant rebellion - anti-peasant ones. The national bond had a certain meaning. It happened that it was she who decided about the division "we" - "them". Under Grunwald, the "state" and "linguistic" patriotism of Polish knights usually complemented each other, there was no such rule on the Teutonic side. Was the knighthood of their country on the side of the Teutonic Knights driven by patriotic motives?

Return of the Lithuanians. Illustration by Michał Elwiro Andriolli for "Konrad Wallenrod"

In fact, there is no reason to doubt it, aside from today's stereotypes (like a Polish knight on the side of the Nazis?). However, it is not a foregone conclusion that cordial patriotic emotions towards the country also applied to the order that ruled the state. After the defeat of the Teutonic Knights, many a knight and a burgher will try to go to the side of the victorious king. It was a little easier for Polish subjects of the Order than for German subjects. However, it is difficult to decide whether the rebels wanted "to Poland" or only "to the Polish king", who would give the inhabitants more freedom than the pesky Teutonic Knights - and a normal system where the state is ruled by a royal dynasty, not a corporation.

The main factor that had a significant impact on the emotions of the Teutonic Knights on this memorable day could have been the anger that the Poles spoiled the Order's work of "evangelizing" Lithuania (read:conquest), insidiously entering into a union with Lithuania. The Teutonic Knights perceived Lithuanians as multiple traitors, breaking numerous treaties, and in addition cunning pagans who pretended to convert to Christianity in order to reconcile with Poland and resist the order. Whether such anti-Polish motivation was disseminated among the other knights of the Teutonic army is really difficult to judge.

The clash between ethnic patriotism and state patriotism could have taken place ... among Polish knights from the monastic state. On the call of the Teutonic Knights, there was a penalty. At the time of the battle, it behaved loyally and patriotically, that is, it fought under the banner of the Teutonic Order.

"Guest" under lock and key

The prisoners of Grunwald are knights, very often "guests" - from abroad. We know a lot about them, because later attempts to buy them from Polish hands abounded in correspondence. We are not sure how many of the prisoners were captured during the later battle of Koronowo in September (but certainly a minority). What was the fate of the riders from the Knight's Posts? They were also in captivity with the copier? Were they released because there was no ransom for them? We don't know.

Ulryk von Jungingen

Knights of prisoners of war is almost a certain investment, although it was often a long-term investment, because in the 15th century it took some time and effort to accumulate cash. The loot collected during the looting of the rolling stock and on the battlefield afterwards was more tangible. Długosz writes with a perceptible sneer (and perhaps an exaggeration) that "in a quarter of an hour" Polish chivalry scratched away "great riches" hidden in the camps, "so that there was no trace of them". Certainly, the search on the battlefield was carried out more carefully, looking for the living and the dead for two more days, and in both cases the rich were preferred. it was during such searches that the body of Ulrich von Jungingen was found, about which Władysław Jagiełło was hastily reported.

Fate wanted two princes, who were sent to Jagiełło before the battle, by Ulryk von Jungingen, to provoke Poles and Lithuanians to fight. In captivity, they had a lot of time to ponder the meaning of the Roman sentence that fortune went on a wheel. It won't be long and Jagiełło himself will feel the bitter taste of this aphorism.


Sweeped ... The Polish-Lithuanian side was left with three problems after victory:the fallen, prisoners and Malbork. The first was resolved well. The second one was simply noble - six hundred (maybe more) "guests" were released, and the ransom for them was to be paid by the Grand Master. Until then, they were to stay in Krakow and spend their time passively there. The benevolence of the Polish king built the image of a Christian ruler, so different from the image of a pagan swamp monster created by the Teutonic Knights. The third, related to the capture of the enemy's capital, was solved badly, to the detriment of the image of Poles, Lithuanians and Jagiełło.

Was Malbork really in a state of chaos and desperate helplessness in the first days after Grunwald? Our second source (Jan von Posilge), Prussian, indicates, as already mentioned, that "the castle was vacant and without food", which does not mean that there was chaos. A scene from those moments:the bishop of Kujawy, having learned about the outcome of the battle, sent a messenger ... to Jagiełło. This messenger was captured by a Teutonic patrol. Significantly, the patrol commander sent the captured messenger to the castle in Malbork, and therefore, as it can be concluded, he did not lose conviction that the castle was functioning (and the whole incident took place even before the arrival of von Plauen). Malbork brothers interrogated the prisoner, so they acted as usual, and did not pack their bags in panic.

The siege of Malbork

By the way, the prisoner of war testified that the bishop of Kujawy (not very loyal to the order, and in the eyes of the Teutonic Knights a traitor) wanted to inform the king about the poor preparation of the Malbork castle for defense. Krzysztof Kwiatkowski considers this statement as symptomatic - the castle was, of course, unprepared (because nobody expected a siege by the Poles before Grunwald), but not in hysteria. The researcher assesses this fragment of Długosz's chronicle as follows:

The chronicle narrative of the Krakow canon, which aims to stylize the text towards its dramatization and build narrative tension, is strongly colored in the description of the situation in Malbork in the days following the battle [...] the atmosphere there was not so catastrophic.

Which, moreover, does not diminish the importance of von Plauen's actions, as it was he who took the burden of preparing the castle for the fight.

It may seem strange to the modern reader that in these very difficult moments a large group of mercenary knights released by Jagiełło appeared in Malbork. They were officially prisoners of the Polish king on their way to Krakow. However, they managed to drive up to the capital of the Teutonic state because they wanted to receive the outstanding pay. It seems even more surprising that von Plauen did his best to settle at least part of the arrears as soon as possible. Some of the important "royal prisoners" stayed in Malbork for some time, received "digestible" (something like today's diet) from the order and waited for the development of events, others wandered around Prussia, delaying the journey to Krakow. They were, it is worth recalling, useless to the Teutonic Knights, because they undertook, in a word of honor, not to take any action against Jagiello.

The commander of von Plauen gave the defenders food and spirit. He gave clear orders to the frightened, to the confused, thanks to which Malbork, when the Poles and Lithuanians finally arrived, did not resemble a panicked chicken coop, but a fortress prepared for defense. Therefore, Plauen's actions were accompanied by what the Polish king would have missed. Hurry.

Jagielle didn't care?

Another question is whether Jagiełło took in his political mind what actually happened. It must be admitted that in the summer of 1410 he pursued a dynamic policy of compelling the Grand Master to accept the battle and defeat him. When it did, however, a common mechanism might have worked:“Pinch me! I can't believe it's true. The Polish-Lithuanian army did not go to war with a plan to defeat the Teutonic Knights, seize their capital (the famous fortress, let's add) and build a new state on the ruins of the old one. The horizon was much narrower - to break in open combat a power that had been a danger for decades. On July 15 in the morning, only an optimist would bet serious money that the Teutonic Knights would be defeated. In the evening of July 15, only a genius or someone with the features of a hot-tempered addict would feel the hunger for a new, quick and even greater victory for the Polish-Lithuanian coalition. A "normal" winner would taste victoria - just like Lithuanians and Poles did.

Piotr Niwiński, a scientist who deals with cursed and not medieval soldiers, thinks otherwise. In an interview with the journalist, he characterized Jagiełło's actions:

Besieged Malbork to no avail. Many historians wonder why he did it so sluggishly. Was he an ineffective commander? Or maybe he just didn't care too much?

Of course, every reader of the above words must ask the question: and why should Jagiello not care? Is it not rather an attempt to read tea leaves - if the king did this and not otherwise, it probably resulted from his plan ...? But sometimes things just go differently - a mistake is a mistake, not a deliberate maneuver misunderstood by posterity. Niwiński, however, remains impressed by the Polish king's foresight:

As a political scientist, I see it this way:Jagiełło thought from a broad perspective. He - a newly converted pagan who entered Europe very recently and who was welcomed in this Europe with great distrust - dared to declare a war and defeat the coalition of all European knights! Remember that the Order has asked knights from all over Europe to defend the Eastern bridgehead of Christianity against the Gentiles. So what if Jagiełło went even further? The conquest of Malbork and the breakdown of the monastic state would cause a great lamentation and a European crusade against the once again pagan Jagiello. That is why the king, seeing an already extremely weakened order, refrained from taking this step.

A press interview does not require proving the truth of your own conclusions. Therefore, Niwiński did not have to explain the certainty with which he recreates the thoughts of a politician who lived six hundred years ago. (Incidentally, Niwiński also spoke about the unorthodox and effective use of infantry at Grunwald, while historians generally agree on this issue - infantry did not play any role in the battle.

The article is an excerpt from the book Grunwald 1410. The greatest triumph of the Polish army Jan Wróbel, which has just been released on the market by the Znak Horyzont publishing house

The fact remains that the royal army did not set off from Grunwald immediately and approached the Teutonic capital in no haste. Reaching Malbork could be delayed by delegations that came to the king who was traveling through the Teutonic Order state, cursing the Teutonic Knights and handing the cities over to the benevolent ruler, and by occupying smaller Teutonic castles. Usually without a fight. The castle in Dzierzgoń was conquered right after the hosts' escape - pots with food were still warm in the kitchen. The Prussian author (continuator of Posilgi) writes about panic among the crews of at least some Teutonic castles. Jagiełło himself provoked panic. Immediately after the Battle of Grunwald, the king signed a letter to the Old Town Council of Toruń with a simple message - tribute or war, preserving rights and freedoms or their loss.

Jagiełło's efforts to subjugate the vassals and cities of the monastic state contradict the vision of the ruler not to upset foreign countries with too great successes ... "And this idea was born on the day after the Battle of Grunwald" (Grzegorz Białuński).

The article is an excerpt from the book Grunwald 1410. The greatest triumph of the Polish army by Jan Wróbel, which has just been released on the market by the Znak Horyzont publishing house